TECHNOLOGY can disrupt the field of dentistry but it does not come cheap.
Universiti Malaya Faculty of Dentistry deputy dean Assoc Prof Dr Firdaus Hariri says that the technology, though advanced and very useful, is costly.
“It will definitely save time and it should improve the precision and accuracy of the treatment outcomes but the influence of IR4.0 is still very new. In certain aspects of dentistry, it is as young as around two-years-old, ” he adds.
The slow uptake of digital technology in dentistry is because of the costs involved.
Unfortunately, new technology is expensive and the costs will most likely be incurred by the patient, he points out.
Dr Firdaus, who is also a consultant oral and maxillofacial surgeon in Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) and the faculty’s department of Oral and Maxillofacial Clinical Sciences, says another way IR4.0 has changed dentistry is by reducing patient discomfort and occupational health and safety hazards to the dentist.
“Now, dentists only need to run a scanner, as big as a pen, along the inside of the mouth.
“The 3D image of the arch can then be viewed on the computer screen and virtually manipulated so the impression-making process is no longer needed.
“A model can then be created using 3D printing and used for the fabrication of surgical guides, dentures or dental crowns, ” he explains, citing an example of how far dentistry technology has advanced.
Previously, it would take up to two months to get dentures made as most dental clinics do not have their own labs and have to wait for the fabricated denture to return to them.
The usage of computer software to create 3D models of the arches allows dentists to carry out virtual simulations of implant insertions.
“Surgical planning can be computerised and this reduces the need for guess work and potential risks, ” he says, adding that IR4.0 must be integrated into today’s teaching methodology.
Virtual reality goggles, for example, have been employed to teach how anatomy and dissection is done in the virtual world.
He adds that dental under-graduates are only exposed to the knowledge through lectures, observations and journal discussions, but would not use the technology at this stage.
“Most of the time, the students pick up the practical knowledge through their own self initiative, ” he says, adding that they could enrol in short courses online.
There is also the use of moving lectures and classes online so that there is no need for face-to-face meetups anymore, he adds.
“This is very useful especially with Covid-19 going around, ” he says, adding that technology can make teaching more effective and less rigid.
Surgeries can also be done by robots now, he says, adding that the da Vinci Surgical System has been used successfully.
The da Vinci Surgical System is a robotic surgical system, available in Malaysia, which can mimic a surgeon’s maneuvers during an operation.
In dentistry, these robots are used in the maxillofacial specialty for oral cancer surgery.
“Learning to operate the software and robots will be a challenge but we need to master these technologies because we cannot afford to be left behind.
“We cannot run away from IR4.0 which can improve our work but it can also remove the need for certain skills.”
Lab technicians who create dental models, for example, have been made redundant because
the machines are able to do that work.
Disruptive technology reduces the need of having a human be part of every process, he says,
but dentistry students must still learn the basic principles and skills to practice safely and effectively.
He adds that skills like tactile and movement dexterity to use the instruments can’t be learned through simulations. These need hands-on practice.
“Our patients are our top priority and we want to complete procedures in a shorter time with less complications and a good success rate.”
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